Cork City Council to discuss legal challenge to merger at midnight meeting

Cork City Council to discuss legal challenge to merger at midnight meeting

Eoin English

Cork City Council is set to proceed with an historic midnight meeting later to discuss mounting a High Court challenge against the controversial Cork super-council plan.

City councillors have ignored a last minute plea from county mayor John Paul O'Shea to hold off on triggering the unprecedented legal action pending talks with the proposed implementation group.

They also received legal advice at an in-committee meeting in City Hall at 5pm which confirmed that there is no legal impediment to their plans to move a Section 140 instructing council chief executive Ann Doherty to mount a legal challenge against the Cork Local Government Review (CLGR) group which published its city and county council merger recommendation two weeks ago.

Councillors will be asked to vote later on a Section 140 which will direct Ms Doherty to seek a judicial review of the actions of the CLGR, and to challenge the constitutionality of government policy on the mergers of local authorities.

The city council is expected to become the first local authority to mount such a constitutional challenge.

"The legal advice we have at this stage is strong enough to tell us that we have a right to move a Section 140 and we will be moving that later," Mr O'Leary said.

"We are prepared to reconvene at 12.01am to allow councillors to have a vote to roll that dice or not to roll that dice."

Earlier, the county mayor wrote to Cllr O'Leary asking him to ask city councillors to allow time for talks.

“I am seriously concerned that any other position to be adopted by the city council will be detrimental to Cork in that we will be left with the status quo,” Mr O’Shea said.

“This is not what either of our two authorities wants to achieve out of this process.”

He said he wrote to the Lord Mayor “in good faith” and “entirely in the interests of all of Cork” and fully recognised that he had no authority to engage in the affairs of the city council.

“I am also satisfied that by continuing the strong sense of co-operation that currently exists, we can and we will build a better Cork for the people who live and work here,” he said.

But Mr O'Leary said the county council has yet to have a public debate on the CLGR report.

"It's disingenuous of the county mayor to advise me or ask me to do something when he has failed to see democracy work in his chamber where the whole thing could be debated in the first place," he said.

The midnight meeting, which is scheduled to comply with legal timeframes around notice of moving Section 140 motions, takes place against the backdrop of ongoing controversy over the CLGR group recommendations which were presented to Environment Minister Alan Kelly two weeks ago.

The five-person review group was split three to two in favour of merging Cork city and county councils.

CLRG members Theresa Reidy and Prof Dermot Keogh co-authored a minority report opposing a merger and recommending a city boundary extension.

The report has divided opinion and triggered claim and counter claim in recent days.

Cork Chamber, developer Michael O’Flynn and businessman Leslie Buckley are among the high profile figures to back the merger plan.

Developer Owen O’Callaghan, the Cork Business Association, planning experts Will Brady, Jonathan Hall and Brendan O'Sullivan, of UCC’s Centre for Planning Education and Research, and UCC local government expert Aodh Quinlivan, are among those opposed to the plan.

CIT president, Brendan Murphy has backed the merger. UCC President, Dr Michael Murphy, said the university has yet to adopt a position on the report.

The chief executive of Cork County Council, Tim Lucey, broke his silence on the issue over the weekend, warning that ongoing public statements over the proposal could damage Cork’s international reputation and the future for businesses and prospective investment.

It sparked a furious reaction from twice former Lord Mayor of Cork, Jim Corr, who described the former Cork city manager’s intervention as “unhelpful scare-mongering”

“There has been an unseemly rush to abolish the city council and to wipe out over 800 years of municipal government – ultimately, that is what will be damaging to Cork’s reputation, both domestically and abroad," Mr Corr said.

“The insidious suppression of public debate on the real issues involved in a merger is worrying – re-enforcing my view that this review set out with only one outcome in mind.

“This is simply wrong, and needs to be pulled back.”

Follow the tweets from Irish Examiner reporter Eoin English who be following events throughout the evening.

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